“An extraordinary set of reminiscences, beautifully put together by an extremely sensitive, even gifted interviewer. It is a jewel.”
–Glenda Gilmore, author of Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950

“With extremely rich, intelligent, and honest reflections, A Red Family speaks to a host of issues that are relevant to an important emerging debate among historians of American labor and the Left. Junius Scales’s recollections address fundamental problems in the history of American communism in a way that should prove valuable to historians who want to avoid both uncritical adulation and the ‘red menace’ caricature on offer in much of the current work.”
–Brian Kelly, author of Race, Class, and Power in the Alabama Coalfields, 1908-21

“Junius Scales is a fascinating character whose experiences tell us so much about his period, and Friedman’s family approach opens up new angles on the story.”
–James R. Barrett, author of William Z. Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism

5 Stars from Curledup.com

A Red Family: Junius, Gladys, and Barbara Scales
Mickey Friedman
University of Illinois Press
216 pages
January 2009
“It is impossible to read this book without a sense of sadness. It is the story of a man who paid a high price for his convictions though wrongly accused, the wife who stood by him to the detriment of her own potential and her motherhood, and his daughter, who grew up aware that her father was different but not understanding totally that his difference was something to be proud of.

Junius Scales was the only American ever to be imprisoned simply for being a member of the Communist Party. But when he was caught and brought to “justice” he had already withdrawn, if not formally resigned from, that Party, disillusioned as many were by the revelations about Stalin’s excesses. His wife, Gladys, was forced to live in the shadow of his political activities, always a fugitive, often by command of the Party or because of ceaseless pursuit by the FBI unable to see her husband for long periods of time. His only child, Barbara, grew up able to see her father and interact as a full family only rarely and was enjoined to say nothing about her father’s imprisonment so as to avoid the disapproval of her schoolmates and neighbors.

Documentary filmmaker Mickey Friedman has brought to life the saga of the “red” family and their hounded existence by means of interviews he recorded in the 1970s, interviews that show the three participants in a small-scale human way that makes their story all the more poignant.

Junius Scales was heir to the best that the South had to offer, raised on a huge family estate in North Carolina that had earlier been a slave-holding plantation. Some of the older family servants had been slaves, and through their eyes Junius got a glimpse of the true meaning of inequity and racism. By the time he started college, he was committed to the cause of equal treatment for all people and gravitated to the union movement then burgeoning in central North Carolina. He lived among the poorest workers and toiled alongside them in textile mills, idealistically sharing their suffering while organizing for the labor union. He took special interest in advancing the cause of African American workers.

He met his future wife in this hothouse atmosphere of social change. She was a Jewish intellectual from New York, and the two were an attractive couple of firebrands. Junius soon made a name for himself in the union movement and in the American Communist Party, which he joined in a fever of zeal for changing conditions for the working class. His daughter grew up hearing the rhetoric of revolution all around her, living a strangely limited life as the child of a man who was gone more than he was home, a father who was imprisoned after a lengthy show trial.

Refusing to snitch on others in the testy atmosphere of the McCarthy hearings, Scales was never convicted of anything more dangerous than being a member of the Party. His harsh sentence was commuted by Robert Kennedy after much hard work behind the scenes on the part of Gladys and others. He was able to obtain a low-level job as a printer after his release and support his family modestly, hiding from attention for many years in order to protect them and others.

A play about Scales, The Limits of Dissent by Lou Lipsitz, his own autobiography, Cause at Heart, and a simple plaque in front of a wood-frame mill house in Carrboro, North Carolina, where the young family spent the early years of their shared joys and travails – these are the tangible legacies of Junius Scales, his wife and his daughter. Friedman’s book is now part of the testament to the life of man who simply wanted to better the lives of his fellows regardless of their race or social status. As many have commented, what happened to Junius Scales should never have happened in America. But it did.”

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2009


Author: Ernesto Aguilar
People’s Weekly World Newspaper, 05/09/09 17:58

“A Red Family: by Mickey Friedman, University of Illinois Press, 2009, 216 pp

The 2002 death of former Communist Party activist and longtime civil rights/labor activist Junius Scales concluded one of America’s most distinctive lives. Convicted of a felony in the 1950s solely for his party membership, Scales appealed his case to the Supreme Court, where the ruling was upheld. He began serving a six-year prison term in 1961, but had his sentence commuted by President John F. Kennedy amid appeals by prominent citizens. His case was turned into a play, The Limits of Dissent, in 1976.

More than a sensational case, the life of Junius Scales was one where a passion for a better country frequently put a young man from a privileged Deep South background regularly in harm’s way. In A Red Family (University of Illinois Press, 2009), Scales’ life is examined through his own eyes as well as through the words of his wife Gladys and daughter Barbara. The result is an intimate book offering a look at a family richly defined by social justice struggles, especially the civil rights movement.

A Red Family follows the trajectory of Junius’ Communist years, including grassroots work he did in the South at a time when the Ku Klux Klan was rampaging in many areas, and local as well as federal officials were impotent at best and actively collaborating at worst. Harassment, arrests and campaign rigors — Scales lived underground for various stretches of time, despite occasional disagreements with Party leadership over the strategy — might have steeled his resolve, but all the hardships the family faced took their toll. Nevertheless Junius and Gladys Scales together refused to be broken in their commitment.

In these times, when words like “socialist” are hurled like daggers, A Red Family is a powerful reminder of the sacrifices made to make racial and labor justice a reality.

Ernesto Aguilar is program director of KPFT radio station in Houston, Texas.

A Red Family
Book Review by Megan Trudell, May 2009
Mickey Friedman, University of Illinois Press

“Politics”, Barbara Scales says at the end of this book, is “the way you live every moment of your life”. She knows what she is talking about. Her parents, Junius and Gladys Scales, were Communist Party (CP) members in the US during the 1940s and 1950s – her father the only American to go to prison for being a Communist. Their story – told through interviews recorded in 1971 and only recently published – is one of considerable courage and affection, great candour and political conviction of the deepest kind.

Junius Scales was born into a wealthy North Carolina family in 1920. His passionate opposition to fascism brought him into the orbit of the CP at college. The pre-war South was segregated. When Junius sat down at a table with black people on equal terms at a conference in 1938, “it was one of the most exciting experiences of my whole life. It just opened up a new world to me.” His commitment to anti-racism never wavered. He joined the CP in 1939 and became involved in student struggles in North Carolina which united black and white students 20 years before the civil rights movement.

Junius later became an organiser in the textile industry – Communists were involved as union organisers in the South and faced the real danger of being killed. His descriptions of the men and women he fought alongside are all the more moving for being understated. The conditions in the mills under rationalisation and speed-ups were appalling, and workers endured great hardship, yet unionism and strike action had transformative effects on the tight hierarchies of mill society which convinced him of people’s capacity for change.

When Junius was imprisoned under the Smith Act during McCarthyism, Gladys worked tirelessly to have his sentence revoked. They both left the CP in 1957 following Nikita Khrushchev’s speech outlining the horrors of Joseph Stalin’s reign in Russia. Their discussion of the personal distortion, pain and confusion this caused provides an insight into how political distortion on Stalinism’s grand scale was imprinted onto millions of individual histories. Tragically, it turned many from activity altogether: Junius and many others felt too tainted or demoralised to engage with the movements of the 1960s that would have been enriched by their experience.

Emerging from this book are two self-critical and intelligent people with their sense of integrity and outrage intact. Their pride in their principles comes shining through: rejection of Stalin’s distortion of socialism did not cloud their belief in working people’s right to fight for justice and freedom.

This book fascinates by entwining personal history with wider US history; the interviews evoke the atmosphere of racism in the South and the frightening isolation caused by the McCarthy witchhunts but also the warmth of comradeship and the persistence of their vision of a better world.


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